Monday 16 September 2019

John Cooney: Cardinal still a captive of clerical culture and Rome

Cardinal Sean Brady greets Sharon Watters and her daughter Jessica, who receives a blessing, after Easter Sunday Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh
Cardinal Sean Brady greets Sharon Watters and her daughter Jessica, who receives a blessing, after Easter Sunday Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh

John Cooney

EASTER Sunday, the annual celebration among Christians around the world of the rising of Jesus, was Cardinal Sean Brady's self-proclaimed R-Day -- resurrection day -- in St Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh.

Without announcing a formal decision to stay in office, the 70-year-old 'lame-duck' Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh made it clear the battering to his reputation did not warrant resignation.

For weeks the cardinal has grappled with his conscience amid calls for him to step down from the throne of St Patrick over his admission of his part in a cover-up 35 years ago of paedophile monk Brendan Smyth.

In a well-crafted phrase rooted in ecclesiastical casuistry, he mitigated his failure by slipping in his apologia: "However unintentionally, however unknowingly, I too allowed myself to be influenced by that culture in our church, and our society."

This was a breathtaking wiping away of the fact that a failure to report a crime against children was wrong in 1975, and remains a crime and a mortal sin in 2010.

It was a brazen example of a church leader reducing to moral relativism the Saviour Christ's warning that harming children was like putting a millstone round the doer's or accomplice's neck.

He has remained cut off from the media, encircled by a group of advisers whose management strategy was first to advance the Nuremberg defence -- he merely acted on the orders of his bishop superior.

Then, on St Patrick's Day, he shifted his ground to say he was ashamed of this action in his past and begged to be accepted as "a wounded healer".

As recently as last week, victims told him to his face at his residence in Armagh that he should go.

In response to this newspaper's confirmation that in 1992-93, prior to Smyth's arrest and imprisonment, he was working as a chaplain in the Mercy Hospital in Cork and briefly in Tralee Hospital, the bland comment from the cardinal's spokesman was that the then- Monsignor Sean Brady was not resident in Ireland and was not responsible for Smyth's activities.

The spokesman ascribed the blame of negligence to Smyth's superiors, the Norbertine Order at Kilnacrott, near Ballyjamesduff in Cavan.

But no explanation has been forthcoming from Cardinal Brady as to why -- given he believed the children were abused by Smyth -- did the late Bishop Francis McKiernan and he, as the pre-eminent canon lawyer in the diocese of Kilmore, not proceed to the second stage of the canon law procedure. This would have meant obtaining Rome's support for their summoning of Smyth and the Norbertines to a tribunal that would have had the power to defrock the paedophile monk. Both McKiernan and especially Fr Brady must have known that this prescription in canon law was the only effective way to deal with a case of a monk who was privileged with autonomous status from the local bishop's jurisdiction but was directly answerable to the Congregation of Religious in Rome.

The two-thirds of the Catholic community who expressed their belief that the cardinal should stand down have been ignored in a series of well-planned monologues by the cardinal from pulpits in Drogheda and Armagh over Holy Week.

However, the Catholic Church's hierarchical system of command pays lip-service to the equality of all members but ignores democratic opinion.

Yesterday, the cardinal set out his stall for a reform programme of the Irish church.

He has resolved to continue to keep the safeguarding of children central to the mission of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

As part of a reform programme, he will propose to the Holy See that the Diocese of Armagh be one of those dioceses which will be investigated as part of the Apostolic Visitation announced by Pope Benedict.

THE cardinal's response ignores the fact that this visitation will take a narrow, hard-line approach to formation of clerics and will frown on a more pastoral-minded clergy than those supervising the visitation such as Cardinals Tarcisio Bertone and William Lavada adopt.

Both the Pope's Secretary of State and Doctrinal Enforcer -- along with Pope Benedict himself -- stand accused of covering up crimes of paedophile priests.

No, Cardinal Brady, a Roman solution to an Irish problem spawned by Rome is not the way to clean up the Irish church.

The cardinal pledged to continue to promote improved programmes of religious instruction for Catholic schools and better faith formation for adults in his Armagh diocese, and he welcomed the Pope's proposal of a nationwide mission to be held for all bishops, priests and religious in Ireland.

It is a work programme that will win Brady brownie points from the embattled Pope and his senior Vatican officials, but its stress on missions, pilgrimages and outdated devotional practices is not in tune with society today, which wants more individualistic emphasis on personal conscience and more direct say in church governance and policy-making.

The Brady blueprint for the Irish church falls far short of a 'People's church'. He remains a captive of clerical culture.

In 1975 he could have prevented Smyth abusing hundreds of more children. Pope Benedict, in his own present difficulties, may yet show moral leadership and prove he is ready to root out paedophilia in the Catholic Church -- by removing Cardinal Brady.

Irish Independent

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